“I Can’t Imagine Myself Flying”

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No anxiety during the flight.

That’s what one person said when they introduced themselves to the rest of our Non Flyers’ group in the first weekend of October. Six very brave people enrolled, wanting to learn ways to cope with their fears of flying. Two had never flown before, despite having several opportunities to take trips, and most everybody else used to fly but decided to stop, for a number of reasons.

More than one person talked about boarding flights, only to exit the planes minutes before takeoff, sometimes leaving family on board to finish the trips alone. One person said they felt “so embarrassed” and “traumatized” by their decision to leave early that they couldn’t barely consider the idea of trying again. Many people talked about feeling a lot of pressure to fly, either from work (eg, “My fear stops me from getting ahead at my job”) or from family, saying “I know I’m holding them back” from holidays and vacations they know would be fun. Different people talked about feeling anxious and how they believed anxiety was both the starting point of their issue and a factor that maintained it.

For example, one person spoke about living with a huge amount of work, school and family stress, and then finding himself so stressed out that he had a first panic attack on the plane. Another, who had never flown before, tried to cope with the uncertainty about what it might be like by watching videos on YouTube. Most people in the group groaned when they heard that, knowing how online videos tend to show only the most sensationalist and extreme situations. That person talked about feeling stuck: He was too afraid to try flying and coped by watching scary videos that made him fear it even more!

Feeling proud afterward.
The Toronto skyline.

Over the next day and a half, the groups meshed into a very warm and supportive environment, where people quickly realized they weren’t alone in feeling as scared as they did. We talked about how the body’s automatic systems focus on anything the mind thinks might be dangerous and activates the alarms just in case. We worked on a number of strategies and skills people could use to calm their mind and body when afraid, and they got a lot of practice using techniques that ‘rewire’ those alarm systems in the brain. Captain Joe, who has been flying for more than 40 years, provided answers to the many questions people had about how airplanes work and how airlines work to keep passengers safe. By the time we were scheduled to head to the airport on Sunday afternoon, most people were feeling ready to see what they could do.

There were some pre-flight jitters and some tears as people celebrated their success at just getting back on board an airplane (or boarding one for the first time). We spent two hours on the ground, getting used to the aircraft and practicing the coping tools learned in the classroom over the weekend. By flight time, all in the group were ready to go and within 10 minutes after takeoff, any remaining anxiety had faded and people were happy to discover that they could do it! We enjoyed a tour of Niagara Falls from the air AND a low-altitude pass around Toronto’s downtown core. All in all, it was a great weekend and every member of the group deserves to feel proud for overcoming their specific challenges.

You can also learn how to get over your fear of flying in our next Non Flyers workshop in Spring 2017. Sign up to our mailing list to make sure you’re notified.